Fabulous Diva – A Tribute to Nina Simone, devised and performed by Ruth Rogers-Wright with pianist Mark Fitzgibbon (replacing the advertised program The Other Woman – The Life and Music of Nina Simone by Lisa Schouw). Cabaret Crème at The Street Theatre, Monday October 15, 2007.
Special credit must be given to Bill Stephens whose standing in the cabaret business enabled him to bring this show in from Melbourne on only two days’ notice following the sudden death of Lisa Schouw’s father.
Sadness at the unexpected news tinged the audience’s early response to Ruth Rogers-Wright’s selection of songs, verse and reminiscences of Nina Simone’s performances. But the show settled in quickly after her rendition of He Needs Me, and we were rewarded by an impression of Simone’s strength of personality, her concern for civil rights, and her style of singing.
The key to this Tribute was the distinction made by Rogers-Wright between a singer who might be a mere entertainer compared with Simone, an artist. The point is valid, but as the show progressed something seemed to me to be missing. On listening to some original Simone performances, I realised that Mark Fitzgibbon’s piano playing, though expert and interestingly complex in blues style, was too smooth. Rogers-Wright’s singing voice also, though catching the blue notes and soul feeling, rarely re-created the raw or even deliberately flat quality of sound that Simone often combined with crude-seeming rhythms. This was the strength which grabbed audiences in large venues and outdoor settings, while Rogers-Wright perhaps felt the need for softer tones in the small theatre setting at The Street.
Personally I found the balance between miked voice and grand piano needed better mixing to prevent the piano masking the lyrics. However, recognising the limitations imposed by working at such short notice, I felt satisfied to have gained an appreciation of Nina Simone’s artistic purpose through Ruth Rogers-Wright’s personal tribute to her work. The applause was warmly given, and I Loves You, Porgy was a memorable encore.
The final Cabaret Crème for the year will be Avigail Herman presenting Hey World, Here I Am – the Streisand Story on Monday November 19.
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